Caius Cornelius Tacitus.

Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II online

. (page 11 of 29)
Online LibraryCaius Cornelius TacitusTacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II → online text (page 11 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

who had quitted Rome with Otho and been left behind at Mutina,[330]
found themselves in a critical position. When the news of the defeat
reached Mutina, the soldiers paid no heed to what they took for a
baseless rumour, and, believing the senators to be hostile to Otho,
they treasured up their conversation and put the worst interpretation
on their looks and behaviour. In time they broke into abusive
reproaches, seeking a pretext for starting a general massacre, while
the senators suffered at the same time from another source of alarm,
for they were afraid of seeming to be slow in welcoming the victory of
the now predominant Vitellian party. Terrified at their double danger,
they held a meeting. For no one dared to form any policy for himself;
each felt safer in sharing his guilt with others. The town-council of
Mutina, too, kept adding to their anxiety by offering them arms and
money, styling them with ill-timed respect 'Conscript Fathers'. A 53
remarkable quarrel arose at this meeting. Licinius Caecina attacked
Eprius Marcellus[331] for the ambiguity of his language. Not that the
others disclosed their sentiments, but Caecina, who was still a
nobody, recently raised to the senate, sought to distinguish himself
by quarrelling with some one of importance, and selected Marcellus,
because the memory of his career as an informer made him an object of
loathing. They were parted by the prudent intervention of their
betters, and all then retired to Bononia,[332] intending to continue
the discussion there, and hoping for more news in the meantime. At
Bononia they dispatched men along the roads in every direction to
question all new-comers. From one of Otho's freedmen they inquired why
he had come away, and were told he was carrying his master's last
instructions: the man said that when he had left, Otho was still
indeed alive, but had renounced the pleasures of life and was devoting
all his thoughts to posterity. This filled them with admiration. They
felt ashamed to ask any more questions - and declared unanimously for

Vitellius' brother Lucius was present at their discussion, and now 54
displayed his willingness to receive their flattery, but one of Nero's
freedmen, called Coenus, suddenly startled them all by inventing the
atrocious falsehood that the Fourteenth legion had joined forces with
the troops at Brixellum, and that their sudden arrival had turned the
fortune of the day: the victorious army had been cut to pieces. He
hoped by inventing this good news to regain some authority for Otho's
passports,[333] which were beginning to be disregarded. He did,
indeed, thus insure for himself a quick journey to Rome, but was
executed by order of Vitellius a few days later. However, the senate's
danger was augmented because the soldiers believed the news. Their
fears were the more acute, because it looked as if their departure
from Mutina was an official move of the Council of State, which thus
seemed to have deserted the party. So they refrained from holding any
more meetings, and each shifted for himself, until a letter arrived
from Fabius Valens which quieted their fears. Besides, the news of
Otho's death travelled all the more quickly because it excited

At Rome, however, there was no sign of panic. The festival of 55
Ceres[334] was celebrated by the usual crowds. When it was reported in
the theatre on reliable authority that Otho had renounced his
claim,[335] and that Flavius Sabinus,[336] the City Prefect, had made
all the troops in Rome swear allegiance to Vitellius, the audience
cheered Vitellius. The populace decked all the busts of Galba with
laurel-leaves and flowers, and carried them round from temple to
temple. The garlands were eventually piled up into a sort of tomb near
Lake Curtius,[337] on the spot which Galba had stained with his
life-blood. In the senate the distinctions devised during the long
reigns of other emperors were all conferred on Vitellius at once.[338]
To these was added a vote of thanks and congratulation to the German
army, and a deputation was dispatched to express the senate's
satisfaction. Letters were read which Fabius Valens had addressed to
the consuls in very moderate terms. But Caecina's moderation was still
more gratifying: he had not written at all.[339]

However, Italy found peace a more ghastly burden than the war. 56
Vitellius' soldiers scattered through all the boroughs and colonial
towns, indulging in plunder, violence, and rape. Impelled by their
greed or the promise of payment, they cared nothing for right and
wrong: kept their hands off nothing sacred or profane. Even civilians
put on uniform and seized the opportunity to murder their enemies. The
soldiers themselves, knowing the countryside well, marked down the
richest fields and wealthiest houses for plunder, determined to murder
any one who offered resistance. Their generals were too much in their
debt to venture any opposition. Of the two Caecina showed less greed
and more ambition. Valens had earned a bad name by his own ill-gotten
gains, and was therefore bound to shut his eyes to others'
shortcomings.[340] The resources of Italy had long been exhausted; all
these thousands of infantry and cavalry, all this violence and damage
and outrage was almost more than the country could bear.

Meanwhile Vitellius knew nothing of his victory. With the 57
remainder of his German army he continued to advance as though the war
had just begun. A few of the veterans were left in winter quarters,
and troops were hurriedly enlisted in the Gallic provinces, to fill up
the vacancies in what were now mere skeleton legions.[341] Leaving
Hordeonius Flaccus to guard the line of the Rhine, Vitellius advanced
with a picked detachment from the army in Britain, eight thousand
strong. After a few days' march he received news of the victory of
Bedriacum and the collapse of the war on the death of Otho. He
summoned a meeting and heaped praise on the courage of the troops.
When the army demanded that he should confer equestrian rank on his
freedman Asiaticus, he checked their shameful flattery. Then with
characteristic instability he granted at a private banquet what he had
refused in public. This Asiaticus, who was thus decorated with the
gold ring, was an infamous menial who rose by his vices.[342]

During these same days news arrived that Albinus, the Governor of 58
Mauretania, had been murdered, and both provinces[343] had declared
for Vitellius. Appointed by Nero to the province of Mauretania
Caesariensis, Lucceius Albinus had further received from Galba the
governorship of Tingitana, and thus commanded a very considerable
force, consisting of nineteen cohorts of infantry, five regiments of
horse, and an immense horde of Moors, well trained for war by their
practice in plunder. After Galba's murder he inclined to Otho's side
and, not contented with the province of Africa, began to threaten
Spain on the other side of the narrow strait. Cluvius Rufus,[344]
alarmed at this, moved the Tenth legion[345] down to the coast as
though for transport. He also sent some centurions ahead to gain the
sympathies of the Moors for Vitellius. The great reputation of the
German army throughout the provinces facilitated this task, and they
also spread a rumour that Albinus was not contented with the title of
'Governor', and wanted to adopt a regal style under the name of Juba.
So the sympathies of the army shifted. Asinius Pollio, who 59
commanded the local cavalry, one of Albinus' loyal friends, was
assassinated. The same fate befell Festus and Scipio, who were in
command of the infantry.[346] Albinus himself embarked from Tingitana
for Caesariensis, and was murdered as he landed. His wife confronted
the assassins and was murdered too. How all this happened Vitellius
never inquired. He passed by events of the highest importance after a
few moments' attention, being quite unable to cope with serious

On reaching the Arar,[347] Vitellius ordered his army to march
overland while he sailed down the river. Travelling with no imperial
state, he had nothing but his original poverty[348] to make him
conspicuous, until Junius Blaesus, Governor of the Lyons division of
Gaul, a member of an eminent family, whose liberality matched his
wealth, provided the emperor with a staff and escorted him in person
with great courtesy, an attention which proved most unwelcome to
Vitellius, although he concealed his annoyance under the grossest
flattery. At Lugdunum he found the generals of both parties awaiting
him. Valens and Caecina were openly commended at a public meeting, and
given places on either side of the emperor's throne. He then sent the
whole army to fetch his infant son,[349] and when they brought him
wearing a general's uniform, Vitellius took him up in his arms and
named him Germanicus,[350] at the same time decorating him with all
the insignia of his imperial position. The exaggerated honours of
these days proved the child's only consolation for the evil times
which followed.[351]

The most energetic of Otho's centurions were now executed, which 60
did more than anything else to alienate the armies of Illyricum. The
other legions also caught the infection, and their dislike of the
German troops made them harbour thoughts of war. Suetonius Paulinus
and Licinius Proculus were kept in mourning[352] and suspense,
disheartened by delay. When at last their case was heard, their pleas
savoured more of necessity than honour. They positively claimed credit
for treachery, alleging that the long march before the battle, the
fatigue of their troops, and the confusion created by the wagons in
their lines were all due not to chance, but to their own treachery.
Vitellius believed their protestations of treason, and acquitted them
of all suspicion of loyalty.

Otho's brother, Salvius Titianus, was in no danger. His affection for
his brother and his personal inefficiency excused him. Marius Celsus
was allowed to hold his consulship.[353] But rumour gave rise to a
belief which led to an attack being made in the senate against
Caecilius Simplex, who was charged with trying to purchase the
consulship and to secure Celsus' destruction. Vitellius, however,
refused this, and afterwards allowed Simplex to hold the consulship
without detriment to his conscience or his purse. Trachalus was
protected against his accusers by Galeria, Vitellius' wife.[354]

With so many of the great in danger of their lives, an obscure 61
creature called Mariccus, of the tribe of the Boii[355] - it is a
sordid incident[356] - endeavoured to thrust himself into greatness and
to challenge the armies of Rome, pretending to be a minister of
Heaven. This divine champion of the Gauls, as he had entitled himself,
had already gathered a force of eight thousand men, and began making
overtures[357] to the neighbouring Aeduan villages. But the chief
community of the Aedui wisely sent out a picked force, with some
Vitellian troops in support, and scattered the mob of fanatics.
Mariccus was captured in the engagement, and later thrown to wild
beasts.[358] As they refused to devour him, the common people stupidly
believed him invulnerable, until he was executed in the presence of

No further measures were taken against the life or property of the 62
rebels.[359] The estates of those who had fallen fighting for Otho
were allowed to devolve by will or else by the law of intestate
succession. Indeed, if Vitellius had set limits to his luxury, there
was no need to fear his greed for money. It was his foul and
insatiable gluttony. Rome and Italy were scoured for dainties to
tickle his palate: from shore to shore the high roads rang with the
traffic. The leading provincials were ruined by having to provide for
his table. The very towns were impoverished. Meanwhile the soldiers
were acquiring luxurious habits, learning to despise their general,
and gradually losing their former efficiency and courage.

Vitellius sent a manifesto on to Rome in which he declined the title
of Caesar, and postponed calling himself Augustus without giving up
any portion of his power. All astrologers[360] were exiled from
Italy, and rigorous provision was made to restrain Roman knights from
the disgrace of appearing at the games in the arena.[361] Former
emperors had paid, or more often compelled them to do this, and many
of the provincial towns vied together in hiring the most profligate
young aristocrats.

The arrival of his brother and the growing influence of his tutors 63
in tyranny made Vitellius daily more haughty and cruel. He gave orders
for the execution of Dolabella, whom Otho, as we have seen,[362] had
relegated to the colonial town of Aquinum. On hearing of Otho's death,
he had ventured back to Rome. Whereupon an ex-praetor, named Plancius
Varus, one of Dolabella's closest friends, laid information before the
city prefect, Flavius Sabinus, maintaining that he had broken from
custody to put himself at the head of the defeated party. He added
that Dolabella had tried to tamper with the cohort stationed at
Ostia.[363] Having no proof of these very serious charges, he repented
and begged for his friend's forgiveness. But it was too late. The
crime was committed. While Flavius Sabinus was hesitating what to do
in such a serious matter, Lucius Vitellius' wife, Triaria, whose
cruelty was altogether unwomanly, terrified him by suggesting that he
was trying to get a reputation for mercy at the expense of his
emperor's safety. Sabinus was naturally of a kindly disposition, but
easily changed under the influence of fear. Though it was not he who
was in danger, he was full of alarms, and hastened Dolabella's
impending ruin for fear of being supposed to have helped him.
Vitellius, accordingly, from motives both of suspicion and of 64
hatred (Dolabella had married his divorced wife Petronia), summoned
Dolabella by letter to avoid the crowded thoroughfare of the Flaminian
road and to turn off to Interamnium,[364] where he gave orders for his
murder. The assassin found the journey tedious; discovered his victim
sleeping on the floor at a wayside inn, and cut his throat. This gave
the new government a very bad name. People took it as a specimen of
what to expect. Triaria's shameless behaviour was further emphasized
by the exemplary behaviour of her relative Galeria, the emperor's
wife, who kept clear of these dreadful doings. Equally admirable was
the character of his mother, Sextilia, a woman of the old school. It
was even on record that when her son's first letters were read to her,
she said, 'It was no Germanicus,[365] but a Vitellius that I brought
into the world.' From that time neither the attractions of her high
station nor the unanimous flattery of Rome could win her over to
complacence. She only shared the sorrows of her house.

When Vitellius left Lugdunum, Cluvius Rufus[366] relinquished his 65
Spanish province and followed him. He knew that serious charges had
been made against him, and his smiling congratulations hid an anxious
heart. A freedman of the imperial court,[367] Hilarus by name, had
given evidence against him, alleging that, when Cluvius heard of the
rival claims of Otho and Vitellius, he had endeavoured to set up an
independent authority of his own in Spain, and to this end had issued
passports with no emperor's name at the head.[368] Certain phrases in
his speeches were also construed as damaging to Vitellius and as a bid
for his own popularity. However, Cluvius' influence carried the day,
and Vitellius even had his own freedman punished. Cluvius was given a
place at court, while still retaining Spain, of which he was absentee
governor, following the precedent of Lucius Arruntius. In his case,
however, Tiberius' motive had been suspicion, whereas Vitellius
detained Cluvius without any such qualms.[369] Trebellius Maximus[370]
was not allowed the same privilege. He had fled from Britain to escape
the fury of his troops. Vettius Bolanus, who was then about the court,
was sent out to take his place.

The soldiers of the defeated legions still gave Vitellius a good 66
deal of anxiety. Their spirit was by no means broken. They distributed
themselves all over Italy, mingling with the victors and talking
treason. The most uncompromising of all were the Fourteenth, who
refused to acknowledge their defeat. At Bedriacum, they argued, it was
only a detachment that had been beaten, the main strength of the
legion was not present.[371] It was decided to send them back to
Britain, whence Nero had summoned them, and meanwhile they were to
share their quarters with the Batavian irregulars, because of the
long-standing feud between them.[372] Quartered as they were under
arms, their mutual hatred soon broke out into disorder.

At Turin[373] one of the Batavians was cursing a workman for having
cheated him, when a legionary, who lodged with the workman, took his
part. Each quickly gathered his fellow soldiers round him, and from
abuse they came to bloodshed. Indeed, a fierce battle would have
broken out, unless two regiments of Guards had sided with the
Fourteenth, thus giving them confidence and frightening the Batavians.
Vitellius gave orders that the Batavians should be drafted into his
army, while the legion was to be marched over the Graian Alps[374] by
a d├ętour which would avoid Vienne.[375] Its inhabitants were another
cause for alarm.[376] On the night on which the legion started they
left fires burning all over Turin, and part of the town was burnt
down. This disaster, like so many others in the civil war, has been
obliterated by the greater calamities which befell other cities. No
sooner were the Fourteenth across the Alps than the most mutinous
spirits started off to march for Vienne, but they were stopped by the
unanimous interference of the better men, and the legion was shipped
across to Britain.

Vitellius' next cause of anxiety was the Guards. At first they 67
were quartered apart, and then, appeased by an honourable
discharge,[377] they gave up their arms to their officers. But when
the news went round of the war with Vespasian, they enlisted again and
formed the main strength of the Flavian party.

The First legion of marines was sent to Spain to cultivate docility in
peace and quiet. The Eleventh and the Seventh were sent back to their
winter quarters.[378] The Thirteenth were set to work to build
amphitheatres. For Caecina at Cremona and Valens at Bononia were each
preparing to give a gladiatorial show. Vitellius never let his
anxieties interfere with his pleasures.

The losing party being thus dispersed by peaceful means, disorder 68
broke out in the victorious camp. It originated in sport, but the
number of deaths increased the feeling against Vitellius. He had
invited Verginius to dine with him at Ticinum, and they had just sat
down to table. The conduct of officers is always determined by the
behaviour of their generals; it depends on that whether they adopt the
simple life or indulge their taste for riotous living;[379] this again
determines whether the troops are smart or disorderly. In Vitellius'
army disorder and drunkenness were universal: it was more like a
midnight orgy[380] than a properly disciplined camp. So it happened
that two of the soldiers, one belonging to the Fifth legion, the other
to the Gallic auxiliaries, in a drunken frolic challenged each other
to wrestle. The legionary fell; and when the Gaul began to exult over
him, the soldiers who had gathered round took sides, and the
legionaries, breaking out against the auxiliaries with murderous
intent, actually cut to pieces a couple of cohorts. This commotion was
only cured by another. A cloud of dust and the glitter of arms
appeared on the horizon. Suddenly a cry arose that the Fourteenth had
turned back and were marching on them. However, it was their own
rear-guard bringing up the stragglers. This discovery quieted their
alarm. Meanwhile, coming across one of Verginius' slaves, they
charged him with intending to assassinate Vitellius, and rushed off
to the banquet clamouring for Verginius' head. No one really doubted
his innocence, not even Vitellius, who always quailed at a breath of
suspicion. Yet, though it was the death of an ex-consul, their own
former general, which they demanded, it was with difficulty that they
were quieted. No one was a target for these outbreaks so often as
Verginius. He still retained the admiration and esteem of the men, but
they hated him for disdaining their offer.[381]

On the next day Vitellius granted an audience to the deputation of 69
the senate, which he had told to await him at Ticinum. He then entered
the camp and spontaneously complimented the troops on their devotion
to him.[382] This made the auxiliaries grumble at the growing licence
and impunity allowed to the legions. So the Batavians, for fear of
some desperate outbreak, were sent back to Germany, where Fortune was
contriving for us a war that was at once both civil and foreign.[383]
The Gallic auxiliaries were also sent home. Their numbers were very
large, and had been used at the first outbreak of the rebellion for an
empty parade of force. Indeed, the imperial finances were already
embarrassed by the distribution of largess, to meet the expenses of
which Vitellius gave orders for depleting the strength of the legions
and auxiliaries. Recruiting was forbidden, and discharges offered
without restriction. This policy was disastrous for the country and
unpopular among the soldiers, who found that their turn for work and
danger came round all the more frequently, now that there were so few
to share the duties. Besides, their efficiency was demoralized by
luxury. Nothing was left of the old-fashioned discipline and the good
rules of our ancestors, who preferred to base the security of Rome on
character and not on money.

Leaving Ticinum Vitellius turned off to Cremona. There he 70
witnessed Caecina's games and conceived a wish to stand upon the field
of Bedriacum, and to see the traces of the recent victory with his own
eyes. Within six weeks of the battle, it was a disgusting and horrible
sight; mangled bodies, mutilated limbs, rotting carcasses of men and
horses, the ground foul with clotted blood. Trees and crops all
trampled down: the country-side a miserable waste. No less revolting
to all human feeling was the stretch of road which the people of
Cremona had strewn with laurel-leaves and roses, erecting altars and
sacrificing victims as if in honour of an Oriental despot.[384] The
rejoicings of the moment soon turned to their destruction.[385] Valens
and Caecina were in attendance and showed Vitellius over the
battle-field: this was where their legions had charged: the cavalry
took the field from here: this was where the auxiliaries were
outflanked. The various officers[386] each praised their own exploits,
adding a few false or, at any rate, exaggerated touches. The common
soldiers, too, turned gaily shouting from the high road to inspect the
scene of their great struggle, gazing with wonder at the huge pile of
arms and heaps of bodies.[387] There were a few who reflected with
tears of pity on the shifting chances of life. But Vitellius never
took his eyes off the field: never shuddered at the sight of all these
thousands of Roman citizens lying unburied.[388] On the contrary, he
was very well pleased, and, unconscious of his own impending doom, he
offered a sacrifice to the local deities.

They next came to Bononia, where Fabius Valens gave a gladiatorial 71
show, for which he had all the apparatus brought from Rome. The nearer
they drew to the city, the greater became the disorder of the march,
which was now joined by troops of actors, eunuchs and the like, all in
the true spirit of Nero's court. For Vitellius always had a great
personal admiration for Nero. He used to follow him about to hear him
sing, not under compulsion - many a decent man suffered that fate - but
because he was the slave of his stomach, and had sold himself to

To secure a few months of office for Valens and Caecina, the other
consuls of the year[389] had their terms shortened, while Martius
Macer's claim was ignored as belonging to Otho's party. Valerius
Marinus, who had been nominated by Galba, had his term postponed, not
for any offence, but because he was a mild creature and too lazy to
resent an injury. The name of Pedanius Costa was omitted altogether.
Vitellius had never forgiven him for rising against Nero and

Online LibraryCaius Cornelius TacitusTacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II → online text (page 11 of 29)